Why Call It Dating? (Pt. 2)

Consider the fact that, when I was discerning religious life, one community mailed me a book titled, "Dating God."

A few additional thoughts on why I currently like the word “dating,” as opposed to “friendship,” in some circumstances. Following up from last week’s post.

Friendship is one of the most amorphous relationships today, and perhaps it should be. We have no words to differentiate the people we see every once in a while and the people we get drinks with once a week. These are all “friends” [1]. And perhaps we have “friends” and “good friends” and a “best friend.” But even “best” can be a category, which to one person means the guy you see once a week and to another the person you’ve lived with for a few years (and probably are or will be married to). And, of course, we expect that even your “best friend” may change at times, and that he or she may or may not have any real obligations to you.

In contrast, a “partner” in today’s world has all kinds of obligations, and a specific role in one’s life. Today, it’s simply a better word (and a more significant category) than “friend.”

Consider the phrase “just friends.” The fact that we hear or might use this phrase suggests a sort of flippancy in the way we approach friendship today. So, even if friendship should mean something different, more robust, and more committal, it just doesn’t in common parlance. And it simply doesn’t seem to be a priority of Christians today to change that.

Another limitation on the word “friendship” is that it has no language for a progression of stages. We have no words for a friendship that is new, or growing, or old. We have no words to denote the “friends” that we relate to, more or less, as acquaintances (but don’t really think of as or call “acquaintances”), or for the types of friends that we want to discern for more permanent or significant roles in our lives. In contrast, “dating,” “boyfriend,” and “partner” all have connotations involving newness, oldness, intentionality, and commitment.

Consider the fact that, when I was discerning religious life, one community mailed me a book titled, “Dating God.” And sometimes when Catholics discuss the discernment of a religious community, we speak in terms of “dating” the community. To be sure, in Catholic theology the religious life is a sort of “married” state, in a sense even more real than marriage between a man and a woman. But regardless, no one mailed me a book titled, “friending God,” even if perhaps they should have. [2]

Of course, we may simply want to change the way we conceive of and talk about “friendship.” I certainly think we should. The Christian tradition demands more of friendship than we currently offer the institution. I commend those who choose to frame these relationships in terms of friendship. But, as a general matter, that’s just not where our language (or practice) is now. And for better and for worse, I’m going to speak English.


[1] Even Aristotle struggled to differentiate between friends, classifying his relationships as “friendships of pleasure,” “friendships of utility,” and “true friendship.”

[2] None of this is to say that I find the current state of friendship acceptable. I find it horrifying. Christians must do friendship differently, take it more seriously, commit to it more concretely, and prioritize it as a prized relationship come to in a deep way only through time, care, and commitment. True friendship is a virtue, not a happenstance. And, in many ways, if we take it seriously, it will rise to a level near, or even in some cases above, our romantic relationships.

4 comments on “Why Call It Dating? (Pt. 2)

  1. Pingback: Why Call It Dating? (Pt. 1) – A Blog by Chris Damian

  2. John Bostwick

    It strikes me that St Gregory of Nyssa used “friendship” as the image of our ideal relationship with God. Check out the concluding Passage of Gregory’s Life of Moses.

    I just want to add that I find you writing to be extremely helpful. While we are very different people, your thought and your vulnerability make me feel less alone. I am very grateful to you for your willingness to put yourself out there you waste that I cannot. Thank you.


  3. Pingback: Weekendlinks | Strength of His Might

  4. Pingback: The CDF Moves Towards Affirming Same-Sex Relationships – Chris Damian

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